The Budget Midlands Staycation

staycation 2013 montage

Baslow Hall lawn

If you’ve read this blog for a while you’ll know we love travelling to all four corners of the United Kingdom. With moving house and me doing something very stupid to my car (don’t ask), our tiny holiday budget was essentially halved overnight. When looking for somewhere to stay we want something a little different, privacy and reasonable price. With our miniscule budget the only property we could afford were carbon copies of our old house (which incidentally is now a holiday cottage), a kind of busman’s holiday. Not what we were after. We then made the decision to stay at home.

View over Peak District from Crich

When I’ve spoken to people about our holiday plans for this year it turns out because money is tight many are choosing a staycation and becoming tourists on our own doorstep.

To make this work we knew he had to make the week feel like a holiday, not just annual leave. Schedules and routines were wiped and there were rules:

  • No housework
  • No watching TV for the sake of it
  • At least one meal a day must be eaten out or brought in. One of which must be Afternoon Tea.
  • Lie ins are compulsory.
  • Not allowed to visit places we know well.
  • Destination must be within 1 hour drive.
  • Switching on the computer is banned.
  • Must plan the week before it begins so we didn’t sit around each morning being indecisive.
  • Toast each evening with a nightcap (usually sherry but this year was Limoncello).
  • All within a £35/day budget. That’s not per person, but for the two of us.

You could argue living in the centre of England is that we’re never far from lots of places. Just an hour drive in either direction we have lots of cities and counties to discover. Over the week we managed to cover Derbyshire, Warwickshire, Staffordshire and West Midlands. One downside of living here is that the seaside is always a decent drive away so any beach was out of the question.

Nearly all the places we went to we got in with various vouchers meaning 10%-50% off the total entry price which helped our budget. I’ve included links to all the vouchers we used below.

Day 1 – Biddulph Grange Garden, Trentham Gardens, Monkey Forest

We always seem to start our holidays with a stop at a National Trust place as we have NT membership and it feels like a “free” day out. Biddulph Grange Gardens on the outskirts of Stoke is an unusual garden. Designed in the Victorian era it is split in to lots of different sections with themes from around the world. Lots of meandering paths and little follies to discover. We spent a while just sitting by the pond watching the damsel flies dart across the lily pads.

After Biddulph we picked up lunch from the fantastic Brown & Green and went in to Trentham Gardens to eat it. Very different from Biddulph Grange. These were more formal. Even if you don’t want to pay to get into the gardens, parking is free with entrance to possibly the poshest garden centre I’ve ever been to along with a shopping village.

Monkey Forest is a conservation centre breeding Barbary Macaques who usually live in the mountainous regions of Morocco and are used to the extremes of the U.K. climate. It’s a walking route through a forest where there is 100+ monkeys roaming free. Think small safari park minus the cars and chance of your wiper blades being torn off your motor for monkey’s lunch. There are also staff on hand to give information. While we were there 6 cute baby monkeys vied for attention.

Discount: buy a combined Trentham Garden & Monkey Forest ticket to save money or 2 for 1 admission for Trentham Gardens (as we discovered, doesn’t include Monkey Forest)

Day 2 – Warwick Castle, Kenilworth Castle

On possibly the hottest day of the week we took in two very different castles. Warwick Castle can best be described as a theme park castle on steroids and unsurprisingly like its sister attraction Alton Towers they charge you £6 to park and then make you walk a mile to the entrance for the privilege. We took our own picnic in and saw both the bird of prey show and the trebuchet launch. Although it is an expensive attraction (we didn’t pay for the dungeons or Merlin Tower) it would be easy to spend a whole day there. We managed 3 hours there (quite a feat for us!) before going on to Kenilworth Castle. Walking up the towers and along the battlements helped to burn off all the ice cream we’d eaten.

Kenilworth Castle was very different to Warwick. Quiet and not a touch of pimped-up castle. Just pure history and a newly restored Elizabethan Garden. Many English Heritage places have free audio tours and they are always worth taking up. We found we learnt a great deal listening to the guide while wandering the ruins.

Discount: if you have English Heritage membership you can get 50% off entrance fee at Warwick Castle.

Day 3 – Cadbury World, Despicable Me 2

My birthday and my dibs on what we got to do. Here we are foodies but not in a food snob sense, we appreciate food in all of its forms from its cheap junk to its Michelin starred (more to come on that later). After a sweltering couple of days I wanted somewhere indoors and ideally with air con. I harbour a secret love for Cadbury chocolate, along with more refined brands I hasten to add. I’ve always wanted to go to Cadbury World and I certainly wasn’t disappointed with the chocolate they dished out and managed to avoid most of the school parties to have a lovely day.

Cadbury World

We then went to the cinema to see Despicable Me (yes we are 30-somethings with no kids) and I had requested we went to a all-you-can-eat chinese to top off my slightly child-like birthday celebrations.

Discount: 25% off Cadbury World, 2 for 1 at the cinema thanks to EE Wednesdays. We saved at the all-you-can-eat as we visited weekday.

Day 4 – Fischer’s Baslow Hall, Chatsworth Farm Shop

You could argue we broke the budget at Michelin-starred Fischer’s Baslow Hall, but thanks to a kind birthday present from my parents we just paid for our drinks. The food and location are frankly stunning and the staff were so professional. We went for 3 courses along with tea and petit fours. Hub’s belly pork starter was so good I nicked some of it. The chicken we both had for main was unlike any chicken I had eaten before. Sweet, juicy and succulent. Then my pudding of poached peaches was absolutely divine and perfect on a hot summer’s day. As we had tea in the lounge I was presented with a birthday plate of chocolates; melt in the middle salted caramel and a refreshing blackcurrant jelly. We also had a wander around their beautiful garden and kitchen garden where lots of their produce comes from. A beautiful little gem in the heart of Derbyshire.

As we were out that way we broke our rule of not visiting anywhere we know well and popped in to the wonderful Chatsworth Farm Shop to stock up our freezer with their glorious beef.

Discount: Many Michelin-starred places have very reasonable lunchtime menus. Fischer’s do two courses for £20.13. Alternatively send your parents there on a Food Lovers’ Break to celebrate a significant birthday. They enjoy it so much they pay for you to visit.

Day 5- Crich Tramway Village, Matlock Bath, Bakewell

Every holiday we stumble across a place that isn’t exactly what we were expecting… not in a good way. Last year Eden Project, this year Crich Tramway Village. Hands up I wasn’t a big fan of the place even if it had been highly recommended to me by many people on twitter. Note: I feel a similar way about the popular York Railway Museum. Great views over Derbyshire but some of the attractions were closed and it was a just bit too geeky for me. Even mechanical-engineer Hubs began to struggle for enthusiasm or it was maybe me looking hot, bothered and exclaiming it was just another tram. I was expecting it to be more like Black Country Living Museum, it wasn’t. We stayed for less than an hour. However I can understand why some people enjoy visiting and the ticket you buys lasts a whole 12 months.

Matlock Bath – Like a seaside resort but nowhere near the sea. At least we managed to eat a good portion of fish & chips there while walking by the river.

Day 5 was saved with a trip to Bakewell. Initially it was to pick up a famous Bakewell Pudding from the Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop but then we happened to stumble across the fabulous Mister Bee Vintage. I came away with a beautiful lino print and a set of vintage Chivers jelly moulds.

Discount: 2 for 1 Crich Tramway Village

Day 6 – Langan’s Tea Room

Derby city centre is lacking any good places for Afternoon Tea so after some recommendations we decided to try Langan’s Tea Room in Burton-on-Trent. This tea room is a social enterprise based in the elegant Burton House. All the staff who work there have been helped in some way by the O’Connor Gateway Trust.

At £7 a head it’s possibly the cheapest afternoon tea we’ve ever done. In some places that wouldn’t even buy you cream tea. For your money you get a big pot of tea along with the usual sandwiches, and scones plus a choice of cake from their cake trolley. We were so full we ended up taking the cake home to eat later. If I was to be really fussy I’d say it was a shame the cream cakes were filled with sweetened cream but that is a personal preference and at the price I really can’t complain.

Langan Tea Room

Discount: 10% off Langan’s Tea Room when you download Big local App.

Like many people we have traditions on holiday and Globetrotting brother started this particular one a few years ago. When visiting new places we send each other postcards. The worse the postcard the better. While I don’t think any postcards we’ve sent brother beat some of the atrocities he’s sent us, this corker from Crich Tramway is pretty close.

So what are your holiday plans this year and have you found any staycation gems on your doorstep?

Published by Jules

Professional Food Geek who loves a freshly baked loaf.